Explaining Death to a 4 Year Old

Updated on January 20, 2008
C.T. asks from Boynton Beach, FL
8 answers

Ok... We need to expalin to our 4 year old daughter that Gigi (Great Grandma) passed away..We have recently gone through a heart transplant and she understands that grandad has a new heart She was able to see Grandad while in the hospital and knows what being very sick means. One difference.. he's alive. She also asked me why we needed shots. *she just got one today* I explained to her that the medicine helps us stay healthy so we don't get sick. I am afraid we might scare her about hospitals and doctors. Has anyone had to explain to a young child or have advice?

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you so much for all the great advice and condolences. We have a much better way of explaining it. To top if off, Gigi will be laid to rest on her absolute favorite day of the year, wearing a green dress with green carnations. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

More Answers



answers from Miami on

Cassandra, I am so sorry for your family's loss. I am wondering if you called Hospice and asked for their advice they may be able to help you. I dear friend passed away and the Hospice counselor gave a book to one of the moms to explain death to the grandchildren who were 3 and 5 at the time. It was not religion based, just an explanation of death. If you are religious, you can use your faith to expalin death to a child. Honestly, no matter how much we explain it, I am not so sure they really undertand exactly what it means because they are just too young to have very many references of the experience.

As for shots, there are several good children books explaining doctor visits for well care and vaccines. Check out your local library and read to them about it. Children learn well from picture books and stories.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

hi cassandra,
I also have a 4 year old. I'm not sure what your faith is, or if you're a christian, but our little munchkin understands about heaven and about the Lord. and that when someone passes away it is because that was the time that God was ready for them to be in heaven with him. Heaven is a wonderful, real place. and when kids understand that, they are very eager to go be with Jesus (at least mine is!) =) and happy for the one that was able to go be with the Lord. I'd just keep it in the positive, if possible. =) there is definate saddness for the loss, but it can be a saddness with joy.
I'm am very sorry for your loss and for the family. Hope this helps.

oh, and about the shots, whenever i am able, i just like to prompt other mommies to do more research on the subject. It was another mom who challenged me on whether or not to vaccinate and at first, i didn't understand and thought she was crazy for even considering not vaccinating. well, i did research to try to prove her wrong and "help" her kids by finding research to cause her to vaccinate once again. well, everything i learned caused us to chose not to vaccinate.
They are truely the biggest health or safety mistake I’ve ever made when it comes to my children and something I’ll never do again. Most parents (like myself before)are led to believe there is no question about the safety of vaccines. Also, most parents are led to believe that vaccinating is the only way and to choose differently is being irresponsible. ( that's what my doctor told me) The truth, however, is that there is a much healthier choice.
Vaccines have very dangerous ingredients in them. such as- antibody boosters, stabilizers, drugs, antibiotics and toxic disinfectants such as neomycin, streptomycin, sodium, chloride, sodium hydroxide, aluminum hydroxide, sorbitol, hydrolyzed gelatin, formaldehyde and a mercury derivative known as thimerosal and are made with and in horse veins, aborted baby organs and money kidneys.

And whenever this topic gets brought up, there are always a few moms that get angry because it can be a sensitive subject. But, it's our children. our precious children...i think we, as parents, should have the ultimate responsiblity for them and not just rely on what a doctor says and do research for ourselves and for our kid's health and lives. =)
also, did you know that 1 in every 150 kids are becoming autistic now? It is actually an epidemic now in the US. and very much so related to vaccines ( in particular- their 18 month "well" visit shots). (that's why all cases are found out after the year and a 1/2 mark!)
well, if u have any questions....i'm here.



answers from Gainesville on

When I was young, and my Mother's parent's passed away. I was given a book that I have now for my son...Th e Fall of Freddy the Leaf. I can't tell you who wrote it...it is packed away right now. But I do know that Barnes and Noble can order it as did our local library. It is a good book. I remember it fondly, even after....over 20 years!



answers from Daytona Beach on

We had to explain death to our 4 year old son. His grandfather (Popo) passed away about 6 months ago. Popo was in the hospital a lot and our son had been up to see him at one time, so he knew popo was sick and he had to be in the hospital to get "special medicine".
In a nutshell, we told him popo's heart was broken and the "special medicine" the Dr used, couldn't fix it.



answers from Gainesville on

My daughter was four when my 21 month old son died. He'd spent the majority of his life in and out of the hospital with life threatening sicknesses.

We explained our son's death by talking about how his little body had gotten worn out from the many times he was sick. We were careful to explain how a normally healthy person has time between illnesses to recover and be healthy, but because Sullivan got sick so often his body never had enough time to recover fully. We talked in pretty clinical terms about how his lungs stopped working and his heart stopped working. She seemed to accept that.

When she asked where he went, or the things that relate more to his spirit or soul, we talked about how his spirit, the things that made him so unique and wonderful, live on in our hearts. The memories we carry with us of all the good times, and the hard times, and the times that he fought so hard to stay with us...those are the ways we know his spirit lives on in our hearts.

It's a really tough subject. Even now, 4 years later, she'll ask questions about him that can be tough to answer. We just answer as honestly and as simply as we can.

Books can be helpful too...there are many books out there that talk about what happens when a loved one passes away.

and I do agree with the previous poster: Hospice is a great place to go for information. They have plenty of people, pamphlets and such that can help guide you through things with your daughter. I can't say enough good things about Hospice, actually. They were with us for the last six months of our son's life and they helped us through so much.

Best of luck...I'm very sorry for your family's loss.

Not sure about explaining shots, except to explain how they help us make defenders for our bodies, to keep away the nasties that make us sick.



answers from Orlando on

I don't know your religious situation but when my daughter was 6 her father died. He was also in and out of the hospial for about 2 years (he had cancer) I just kinda explained that sometimes people get sick and maybe God needed Daddy more than we did. He would obviously be a really good angel. We also used to play a "game" when she would get sad and start missing her dad and we would come up with diffrent things we thought daddy was doing in Heaven. This actually helped her to talk about him and remember the things he loved to do WITHOUT getting sad about it.



answers from Orlando on

I would explain to him the simple facts. Our body works hard and as we get older our bodies don't work as well. The better we take care of our bodies by eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and exercising the better our body will work. Grandma lived for a long time- x years and we were lucky to be able to spend so much time with her. Then you can ask him the favorite thing he liked to do with her, maybe make a book of pictures of her, etc.

You should be sure to tell him that you will miss her. It helps to mention her in passing, such as if your shopping and see her favorite food, you can say hey look there is Gigi's favorite cereal. Remember that time when GiGi... Things like that so that he knows its ok to talk about her and its ok to miss her.

Children pick up on your feelings and your reactions so if you are ok with it, they will be also.

Hope that helps.




answers from Boca Raton on

tell your 4y/o about death does not have to be scary. You can tell her that her gigi is not here any more because after she got sick she went to "live with Jesus". Its best to keep things very simple especially at that age, as she gets older her level of understanding will develop and you can elaborate accordingly. good luck!!

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions